We all suffer a loss during our lifetime, whether it is a parent, sibling, spouse, family member, friend, colleague or a beloved pet; the lingering effects seem to prevail over us. We become engrossed with the trauma of the moment and the memory which is overwhelming; leaving us lost while trying to navigate the profound impact on our bodies, emotions and brains.
While we can cling to the old adage that time heals all wounds, reality dictates that leaning into the newfound, yet unbearable feelings are the only way to move forward. We as a species tend to become stagnant in our routines and when we suffer a loss, the tendency is to stand firm in what we are accustomed to and not embrace changes. The brain sends out the survival mode message which is received by our bodies and emotions.
Science tells us that the regions of the brain that are affected by grief are within the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. These directly involve emotional regulation, memory, multi-tasking, organization and learning functions. During the grief process, a multitude of neurochemicals and hormones take motion in our heads and can, therefore, produce symptoms such as loss of appetite, depression, fatigue, anxiety and disrupted sleep patterns.
When we experience the traumatic loss of a parent, in particular, it evokes an abysmal effect on us all; and the grief can have a lasting effect and actually alter our brain chemistry leading to physical effects on our bodies. The challenge is if we recognize the changes that are thrust upon us and how we choose to embrace them or work through them. While the posterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex and the cerebellum in the brain are also responsible for retrieving memories and allowing us to dwell in the past, these areas of the brain will promote a state of depression to linger.
I can say that after suffering the loss of my mother, I certainly experienced all the aforementioned symptoms of loss, and what I’ve learnt is that I did not move on but I did learn to move forward. My feelings left me with the premise of being outside a window looking in on a scenario that wasn’t real. The grief became a permanent resident in my heart and my home. I did eventually lean into my emotions that led me to address my childhood pains and to finally see my mother as a person and not an illusion of what a mother symbolizes.
I finally saw her through adult eyes and acknowledged that the mistakes I felt she made in parenting me were the residual effects of her own childhood pains. As children, we tend to idolize our parents and forget that they are human and with that comes the demons we battle while making strides through our lives. We are all trying to get over something, some slight, some hurt and in most cases, it tends to be the most difficult feat we will face.
These realizations were very taxing on my emotions and I wondered why I didn’t have the same reactions during the grieving process when my father passed away a couple of years prior to my mother. As I continued to examine my emotional state and looking back while in forward motion, the reality was that my mother was my primary parent, a single mom, who survived an alcoholic and physically abusive husband. She was the driving force behind the strength ingrained in the strides through my life, as a single mom myself. I can relate to some of the pains she was trying to defuse; I was finally able to put our mother-daughter relationship into perspective, to not only like her, but to love her unconditionally, and as I accepted what I perceived as her flaws and her scars, I realized that she was not perfect, but she was the most important person in my life and she is the person I look at in the mirror.
My process has led me down a path of clarity and forgiveness, of myself and my parents, for learning not to judge the path my parents took individually or the path I’ve chosen to take for myself. I have learnt to understand that we all have our own process and it is formulated from our good and bad experiences, the ones that hurt us or uplift us, that offer tears or elation. We are constantly a work in progress, seeking a unique dream of fulfillment and satisfaction before our dash comes to an end.
We must all find ourselves in loss and seek to move forward with our constant companion – grief.